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First Responders in the Age of Terror

The planning for terrorist attacks is hard to detect, but first responders are called into action every time. We need to be ready to respond.

During the past few years, the fire and emergency service has seen an evolving terrorist threat in the Middle East and across North America and Europe. Those who perpetrated incidents in Boston, Paris, London, Garland, Chattanooga and San Bernardino used a variety of tactics, including gunfire and explosives.

In all cases, the planning of these attacks was hard to detect, but first responders were called into action without exception.

This was the message I took to Capitol Hill this month on your behalf when I appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

My testimony included our industry’s adaptability to respond to both large-scale and localized threats and how we work with our law enforcement partners and other stakeholders to remove information silos that were common before 9/11.

To prepare for this new threat environment, I told the Committee that local fire departments require timely and accurate information from our federal partners about threats to our jurisdictions. With tight budgets, fire departments learn to prioritize risk; this information helps with that prioritization.

Fire and EMS are partners in response, as well as in information sharing. In Austin, I have firefighters stationed at my local fusion center. The IAFC has a terrific resource that can help your community: Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team Intelligence Guide for First Responders

Interoperability is essential. We encourage fire departments to take part in the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. We support implementation of the National Incident Management System. We support FirstNet, an interoperable communications system vital to an effective response that Congress recently approved.

Local fire and EMS departments also need to plan for and exercise their response to a major terrorist attack. They must develop capabilities to provide rapid on-scene care, triage and transport to patients.

I reminded the Committee that fire and EMS departments depend on federal government grants for specialized equipment, training and exercises.

The terrorist threat has evolved, and the nation’s fire/rescue departments are adapting to meet this threat. I’ll do all I can to ensure we have the resources to do that.

Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr
President and Chair of the Board

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